Business Briefs – January 29, 2019

U.S. Consumers Rattled by Shutdown, Roiling Markets

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence tumbled this month to its lowest reading in a year and a half, tested by the partial government shutdown and roiling financial markets. Still, consumer spirits remain robust by historic standards. The Conference Board, a business research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index fell to 120.2 in January, down from 126.6 in December and the lowest level since July 2017.

House Dems Want Treasury Records On Russian Sanctions Move

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three senior House Democrats are demanding Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin turn over documents that would show how his department decided to lift financial sanctions against three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Reps. Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters and Eliot Engel say in a letter sent Tuesday to Mnuchin that they want a broad array of material, “regardless of classification,” that may include the intelligence reporting used to justify removal of the penalties.

The Treasury Department announced Sunday said it was removing Russian aluminum giant Rusal and the two other companies from its sanctions list on the grounds the businesses had reduced Derapaska’s direct and indirect shareholding stake in them.

Billionaires Hit Warren on Proposed Tax Hike on Top Earners

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Elizabeth Warren seized on criticism Tuesday from two potential presidential rivals who are billionaires to highlight her proposal to raise taxes on top earners.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted the Massachusetts Democrat’s “ultra-millionaire tax” as “probably unconstitutional.” During a two-day visit to the early voting state of New Hampshire, Bloomberg said “we shouldn’t be embarrassed by our system” and warned against a slide toward Venezuela’s imploding socialist economy. His comments followed a jab from former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who called Warren’s plan “ridiculous” in an NPR interview.

In an interview Tuesday, Warren said the tax is necessary and dismissed the criticism from Bloomberg and Schultz, who are both considering using their wealth to fund a presidential campaign.

“Another billionaire who thinks that billionaires shouldn’t pay more in taxes,” she told The Associated Press. “No surprises — but that’s also not how we’re going to build a future for this country.”

France Backs Cyprus’ Search For Gas Amid Turkey Opposition

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — France’s president says his country fully backs Cyprus’ sovereign right to search for gas off the island nation’s coast amid continued opposition by neighboring Turkey.

Speaking at the end of a southern European summit Tuesday, Emmanuel Macron said that France is “very concerned” about what’s happening in waters around the island and that he conveyed that to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

France’s Total is among several energy companies licensed to search for gas off Cyprus. Turkey says the search breaches its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to potential hydrocarbon deposits and will conduct its own exploratory drilling around the island.

France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Malta, Spain and Cyprus said in a joint declaration that they see the Mediterranean as a “strategic corridor” for conveying gas to Europe.